After Irene, Vermont reels from flooding disaster

AP News
Posted: Aug 29, 2011 9:55 PM
After Irene, Vermont reels from flooding disaster

Vermont was reeling Monday from a flooding disaster left by Tropical Storm Irene that washed out roads and bridges, cut off about a dozen towns, left thousands of homes and businesses without power, and killed at least three people.

President Barack Obama signed an emergency declaration, making federal assistance available for the entire state.

Waterbury was among the hardest hit. Flood waters shut down the Vermont Emergency Management headquarters, the Vermont State Hospital and other state agency offices. About 50 patients were moved from the psychiatric hospital to other facilities.

"It breaks your heart to see the extraordinary devastation that we're seeing here in Vermont," Gov. Peter Shumlin said after touring the state by helicopter with U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and other officials. "I do not believe that we have seen flooding like this in our state's history."

State emergency workers had to evacuate Monday in the middle of trying to manage the disaster. They moved to Federal Emergency Management Agency offices in Burlington.

"We lost our (computer) server and email," said Mark Bosma, spokesman for the state agency. "We had to set up Gmail and Hotmail accounts."

And to top it off, they lost the disaster management software they use.

Throughout Waterbury were signs of Sunday's storm: a mud-caked Main Street, an inundated ball field, and flooded-out homes.

"It's a mess, a total disaster," 42-year-old Justine Barup said, her voice breaking, as she surveyed her front yard covered in silt and mud.

About 35,000 electric customers remained without power Monday, down from about 50,000 during the storm.

A ski lodge partially collapsed at the Killington resort in south-central Vermont. No one was in the lodge at the time, but about 300 guests at a resort hotel and condominiums as well as 100 Killington resort staff were stranded because the roads were washed out, said Killington marketing manager Chris Danforth.

The deaths included a young woman from Macedonia participating in a work program at southern Vermont's Mount Snow resort. She was swept away while watching the Deerfield River on Sunday.

The governor said a man died in Ludlow, though no additional details were immediately available.

A Rutland City worker checking on the city's water supply in neighboring Mendon, apparently fell into the Mendon Brook when a river bank collapsed. Michael Joseph Garofano, 55, was later confirmed dead. His son, 24-year-old Michael Gregory Garofano, who was with him at the time, was missing.

Whole towns or sections of towns were stranded. Some residents couldn't get to their homes; others couldn't leave them.

Martin Saylor, a 57-year-old disabled man from Newfane, where seven bridges were closed, managed to walk with his wife four miles to a spot where a cell phone would work so they could call relatives and ask for help.

"It's a mess," he said Monday, standing near the Rock River. "I don't know what I'm going to do."

Shumlin and Leahy defended the state's decision not to do more extensive evacuations before the storm arrived, saying it would have been impossible to predict which towns would be hardest-hit.

"What are you going to do, evacuate the entire state of Vermont?" Shumlin asked. "... You can see one community that looks like it didn't get hit at all, and two miles down the road a community that is totally devastated. And obviously there's no one that can predict which community, where, why or how."

Farmers lost crops. Tomatoes, corn and other vegetables just ripening for harvest, once inundated by flood waters, had to be discarded.

At the Waterbury Area Food Shelf, Director Cara Griswold said an agency in the business of helping others now needed help itself _ and was getting it.

"We had five people walk in this morning and say `what can we do to help,'" Griswold said.

Volunteers pulled food and toiletries off the center's lower shelves, those hit by flood waters that rose about 18 inches above the ground floor. The food shelf's freezers stopped working, but nearby grocery stores offered to keep items deemed worth saving frozen.

But with the floor and yard covered in mud, Griswold said, "It's going to be a rough week."


Associated Press writer Lisa Rathke contributed to this report from Montpelier, Vt.